GUEST POST: Christina Bergling

What Scares You?

What is the scariest movie you’ve ever seen?

This should be an easy question to answer. Considering the amount of horror movies I watch, I should have a scrolling list in my mind from which to choose. However, as I roll through that list, I can’t settle on one I consider scary.

I have a long list of ones that have disturbed and upset me. The Sadness (2021) that I saw at Telluride Horror Show. The Treatment (2014) that I saw at the Stanley Film Festival. Martyrs (2008) and Inside (2007), French movies. The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things (2004) by Asia Argento, Dario Argento’s daughter. The Human Centipede (2009-2015), all three obviously.

I can even think of ones that creeped me out or unnerved me. The Conjuring (2013) was “creepy as balls” to quote my husband. Antebellum (2020) and Get Out (2017) for the other horrors they capture. Se7en (1995) for the lust murder.

I could keep going on either list, yet I still don’t land on scary. That begs the inevitable question, what is scary? What do I think makes a movie scary? What scares me, onscreen and off?

I have had vivid, graphic nightmares my entire life. When I was a child, anything and everything I watched would reappear twisted in my nightmares. I had a sheltered childhood, so that would result in the ghosts from the Ghostbusters cartoon haunting me or something equally benign. In short, I was scared of just about everything.

One night, while I was babysitting, I found Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1995) on the family’s HBO or Cinemax or something. I was never allowed to watch anything violent at home, so when I flipped the movie mid-way through, I decided to sneakily watch it at someone else’s house. After all, it was just a movie, and I so wanted to watch horror.

The movie scared the hell out of me. The scene where Matthew McConaughey crushes someone’s head with his mechanical leg embedded in my brain. I can conjure it even now, these decades later. I was so terrified that when the parents came home and I left, I ran home because walking in the dark was too fraught with terrors.

It has been a lot of nightmares and horror movies since that night. Perhaps I have become desensitized. Or perhaps the things that scare me have changed. Or how I define scary itself.

When I muse on what scares me, “adult” or “real” fears are what bubble to the surface of my brain. No supernatural elements or phobias. Family members dying or getting hurt, financial devastation that leads to not being able to take care of my family, failure, myself, being stranded alone in the dark, being trapped. Not all of them are rational, and the scenarios concocted in my mind inflate to being outrageous. Ultimately, I think I would classify these as anxieties rather than full on fears.

When a strange noise creaks from upstairs in a dark and empty house, I definitely startle (I also startle constantly in a haunted house). However, fear does not cinch around my heart. Rather, I resign myself to wait. I’ll find out what it is when it comes to kill me. That behavior might be from overdosing on horror. Never investigate the strange noise.

I’m not proposing that I am fearless. When I’m hiking a mountain and there is a sheer drop off, my pulse surely reminds me that I am a fragile mortal. And the fall would kill me. Yet I find my fears mundane in their everyday origins. Who doesn’t fear these things? It feels like highlights of the human condition.

I have been obsessed with horror so long that any tickle of fear it elicits is exciting. It’s fun, and it’s safe. I can feel the thrill and the injection of adrenaline, knowing nothing is really going to happen. As a creator of horror, I appreciate the manufacturing of terrifying circumstances—events and things that exist beyond our plane.

So, for the sake of this article and to make it more than my subconscious rambling, let’s redefine fear in this context. If movies and books don’t scare me but rather upset and traumatize me, let’s talk about recent times I have been afraid in real life. Skin tingling, fight or flight fear.

I recently lost my daughter in a Target for ten minutes. She wanted to walk down the aisle and swap out some pants. Since the children’s department was in sight from the wide aisle, I figured it would be fine. After all, she has wandered off to look around in a store before. My son and I finished what we were doing and went to find her in that section.

She was not there. Nothing.

Suddenly, no one seemed to be in the area. I hurried through the section, looking behind racks for her curly head and whirling my sight for any hint of movement at the right height. I jogged up and down the aisle, yelling at my son to keep up.

Still nothing.

My mind swelled and filled with worst case scenarios. I saw her finding something interesting and just wandering off. I pictured a stranger snatching her hand and dragging her out the front door. I kept telling myself it was fine, she had to be there somewhere, she would appear any moment; but that frantic mantra did nothing to soothe the pulse raging through my veins.

I could feel every cell in my body. They twitched and vibrated in time with the repeating panic. Every turn with no glimpse of her felt like walking off a precipice, a jump that meant nothing could ever be the same. Even my hands seemed to have vanished.

Fear, cold and consuming, draped over me.

Then she appeared, and all that adrenaline left me trembling as I nearly cried with relief.

As vivid as it was, this is a pretty mundane fear, something to which I think most parents can relate. There is nothing fantastical or irrational about it, which are hallmarks for horror fear for me.

Maternal fear is an instinctual fear. I have also experience primal fear. One summer, I was at Girl Scouts camp with my daughter. Everyone was around the fire, singing and making s’mores. My daughter needed a blanket, so I volunteered to walk down to the cabin. My brain needed a break from the sound.

I meandered down the gravel road, enjoying the pale moonlight painting the ground through the trees and my footsteps as the only sound. The chill of the night air licked at my cheeks, and the calm of solitude flattened over me.

As I approached the cabin, a smell smashed into my face like a wall, hard enough to pack my nostrils and wriggle into my sinuses. The odor was foreign yet distinctly wild. I could taste it. Shaking it off, I continued on the gravel. As the cabin lights came into view, I heard rustling and digging ahead. Squinting against my weak night vision, I made out a hulking black shape.

My mind clicked around the realization: a bear.

Terror flooded through me, independent below my mind. There were no thoughts, no panicked monologue. My body reacted without bothering with evaluation or ratinalization. It knew there was real danger ahead, and it knew down to my marrow that it was time to flee.

With strained effort, I applied my thoughts back into the situation. My legs wanted to run, but I held them fast, reduced the urge to slow backwards steps. Once I was far enough away for my breathing to slow, I turned and hurried back to the fire.

Primal fears might be the most consistent for humans. I don’t think I know anyone who would remain calm and unaffected when faced with a predator that could kill them without much effort. The base reaction in the moment does not even need a brain to identify the threat.

In life and reality, I think it is clear that I have fears, from maternal panic to instinctual flight. When it comes to horror movies and Halloween though, I’m still searching for nightmare fuel to quicken my heart and bleed into my days.

Boo-graphy: Christina Bergling has been writing since childhood. She has written a variety of styles. A blog from Iraq, software user guides, articles for a numismatist magazine. More than anything, she is a horror author.

Crystal Lake released her latest novel, Followers. Limitless Publishing published her novel The Rest Will Come. HellBound Books published her two novellas, Savages and The Waning. She co-wrote Screechers with Kevin J. Kennedy. She is also featured in numerous anthologies, including Collected Christmas Horror Shorts
(1 and 2), Demonic Wildlife, Colorado’s Emerging Authors, and Graveyard Girls.

Bergling lives with her family in Colorado and spends her non-writing time working in IT, hiking mountains, dancing, and sucking all the marrow out of life.

CHARACTER INTERVIEW: Sidney (Followers by Christina Bergling)

Sidney, a single mother with a menial day job, has big dreams of becoming a full-time horror reviewer and risqué gore model. She’s determined to make her website a success, and if her growing pool of online followers is any indication, things are looking good for her Elvira-esque aspirations. In fact, Sidney has so many followers that chatting with them is getting to be a job in itself. More than a job, it might be getting a risky….

When Sidney is attacked on a dark trail late one night, it becomes clear that the horror she loves is bleeding into her real life. She learns that real-life horror is not a game, and being stalked isn’t flattering—it’s terrifying, and it could get her killed.

Sidney—and her loved ones—are now in serious danger. This follower isn’t just another online fan: he knows her movements, and he knows her routine. In fact, he’s right behind her… and when he gets close enough, he won’t take no for an answer.

Meghan: Hey, Sidney. Thanks for agreeing to sit down and talk with me today. What is one word you would use to define yourself?

Sidney: I think maybe “damaged”. Since my divorce, I’ve been sort of lost. The divorce was my fault, and ex hates me. Maybe he should. I try to be a good mother, but I don’t think I’m doing good enough for my son. The only place I seem to any good or I like myself is online. I can find people who make me feel good online.

Meghan: Do you see yourself as the “good guy” or the “bad guy”?

Sidney: I try to be a good guy. I never asked for what happened to me, but maybe it is my fault. Maybe I did this to myself. And to them.

Meghan: What does the plot require you to be? How does this requirement limit you?

Sidney: I have to be naïve, maybe a bit self-deluded. This causes a lot of mistakes and bad decisions.

Meghan: What is your quest?

Sidney: My quest starts as trying to find a new and better life. I want to go from a wounded divorcee working a terrible job to someone better. I want to find a career I love, creating horror content, and I want to find someone(s) who will make me feel better about myself.

Meghan: What do you hope to accomplish, find, or become during the course of your book/series?

Sidney: I want to be that better person with that better life. And I want to be safe, from all the mistakes I’ve made.

Meghan: What do you like about the other main characters? What do you least like about the other main characters?

Sidney: I have the best friends. Kendra is my best friend and is always there for me. We live together and have a Divorced Wives Club for drinking wine and commiserating. Then Brady is my partner in horror art. He takes bloody pictures of me that we use for promotion online. Plus, he and his husband are always there for me. Not to mention all the people I’ve connected to online.

Meghan: When was the last time you lied What made you do it?

Sidney: I lie a lot. Big lies and little lies. My big lie was when I cheated on my ex. However, now my lies are more omissions because I don’t want everyone to see who I am or how much I’m struggling.

Meghan: Who have you betrayed lately? What happened?

Sidney: I betrayed my ex when I cheated on him. I am still paying for that. Since then, I have tried hard not to betray anyone else, even though I hide myself sometimes.

Meghan: Would you say that you are an optimist or a pessimist?

Sidney: I’m somewhere in the middle. Sometimes, I should be more optimistic. Other times, I need to be more pessimistic and realistic.

Meghan: What is your superpower?

Sidney: I love horror. I create content and maintain a blog and website to share that love of horror.

Meghan: What is your biggest secret?

Sidney: My biggest secret is how guilty and how bad I feel about myself. I don’t want to admit everything I’m doing on the internet to make me feel better.

Meghan: Do you live in the right world? (I mean, are you at home in your setting?) How necessary are you to your world?

Sidney: I have two worlds. The real, 3D world and the online one. I think I have a foot equally in each.

Meghan: What is your role in this setting? Are you okay with this role or would you like it to change?

Sidney: In the real world, I am a mom, an ex-wife, a friend, a manager at a cell phone store. I don’t think I’m doing any of these that well. Online, I am horror lover and a social butterfly. I feel like I can hide from my real life online. I like myself better on the internet.

Meghan: Did you turn out the way you expected?

Sidney: Neither my life nor myself turned out how I expected. I thought I would be with my husband still, but I messed that all up.

Meghan: What, if anything, would you change about your life?

Sidney: I would change a lot of my decisions. Clearly, I should not have stayed with my husband, but I wish I had ended things differently. Without the cheating. I also wish I had made different decisions online, specifically who I connected with and what I told them. I did not realize how dangerous it was out there.

Meghan: How do you feel about your author?

Sidney: She’s kind of mean. She makes me pretty unsympathetic and unlikeable person by putting all my flaws and bad decisions on display. I wish she didn’t tell everyone everything about me.

Meghan: If the two of you got together for coffee, what would you want to say to them?

Sidney: I would ask her if writing books is a better career than hosting horror blogs and websites.

Boo-graphy: Christina Bergling has been writing since childhood. She has written a variety of styles. A blog from Iraq, software user guides, articles for a numismatist magazine. More than anything, she is a horror author.

Crystal Lake released her latest novel, Followers. Limitless Publishing published her novel The Rest Will Come. HellBound Books published her two novellas, Savages and The Waning. She co-wrote Screechers with Kevin J. Kennedy. She is also featured in numerous anthologies, including Collected Christmas Horror Shorts
(1 and 2), Demonic Wildlife, Colorado’s Emerging Authors, and Graveyard Girls.

Bergling lives with her family in Colorado and spends her non-writing time working in IT, hiking mountains, dancing, and sucking all the marrow out of life.

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Christina Bergling

Meghan: Hey Christina. Welcome back, and thanks for joining us today on Meghan’s Haunted House of Books, New Year’s Day Edition. What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Christina: It’s hard to pick because I love everything. I gravitated to Halloween as a young child, before I ever knew how dark my mind was. I think the costumes drew me in first, maybe the candy too. I still love costumes (and try not to love candy). I used to write Halloween stories the entire season. Now, I write horror all the time.

Meghan: Do you get scared easily?

Christina: No. Admittedly, I’m a bit desensitized. Besides a steady diet of horror, I am prone to very brutal nightmares. Ever since I was a child. It’s challenging for media to rattle me. The last time I was truly scared is when I was a contractor in Iraq. And the one time I lost my daughter in a store for about ten minutes.

Meghan: What is the scariest movie you’ve ever seen and why?

Christina: I don’t get scared much by movies anymore. Disturbed, traumatized, sure. However, when it comes to real fear, I remember watching Texas Chainsaw Massacre The Next Generation when I was babysitting alone. I hadn’t watched any horror before, and it scared the hell out of me. When the parents got home, I ran all the way home in the dark. Watching that movie now, I severely judge myself.

Meghan: Which horror movie murder did you find the most disturbing?

Christina: Human Centipede was pretty traumatic. The skinning in Martyrs also has always stuck with me. Then there’s also when a woman gets sawed in half in Terrifier. And the entire movie The Sadness, end to end. Those are the grisliest I can think of.

Meghan: Is there a horror movie you refused to watch because the commercials scared you too much?

Christina: Never. Though there are ones I avoid because they appear too lackluster in the commercial.

Meghan: If you got trapped in one scary movie, which would you choose?

Christina: Trick ‘r Treat. I love that world. It’s so completely Halloween, and you only get hurt if you need to be punished for violating the rules.

Meghan: If you were stuck as the protagonist in any horror movie, which would you choose?

Christina: I would be Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs. I find Hannibal Lecter fascinating, and would like to play the mental game with him.

Meghan: What is your all-time favorite scary monster or creature of the night?

Christina: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is/are my favorite. I can relate to feeling like there are two opposing personalities trapped within you. Plus double the character for one body.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Christina: Again, everything. I watch a horror movie every night in October, which I have dubbed Horror Movie Bingo. Each square is a horror movie element or trope, and I spend the month filling that in. Attending the Telluride Horror Show helps. Then we usually have a costume party. It gives me a good excuse to dress up as an adult when I’m not on stage.

Meghan: What is your favorite horror or Halloween-themed song?

Christina: This year, I’m going with Spooky Scary Skeletons. I like to dance to it.

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

Christina: Last year, I said The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum. Since then, I would say Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke by Eric LaRocca. The novella is so visceral and gets under your skin. It is written as online correspondence between two people in a unique relationship. It is a throwback to the internet in the 90s. And it is amazing what LaRocca can communicate in those brief entries.

Meghan: What is the creepiest thing that’s ever happened while you were alone?

Christina: When I took my daughter to girl scout camp, I walked back to the cabin in the dark while she was making s’mores. As I was ambling down the path, I heard some rustling and banging. When I got closer, I smelled something distinctly… wild. In my weak night vision, I saw the blurred shape of a bear. Convincing myself to retreat slow, I hurried right back to the fire.

Meghan: Which unsolved mystery fascinates you the most?

Christina: Last year, I said Jack the Ripper. That is still true. However, this year, I will say the mysteries from Netflix’s reboot of Unsolved Mysteries. I want them solved! After an entire episode investment, I was always left itching for answers.

Meghan: What is the spookiest ghost story that you have ever heard?

Christina: Bloody Mary messed me up as a child. I was genuinely terrified she would appear in a dark mirror and snatch me through the glass. Then I stopped believing in ghosts, and the stories became more interesting that spooky.

Meghan: In a zombie apocalypse, what is your weapon of choice?

Christina: Machete. It needs to be able to cut through or off a head but also be quiet to not rouse the other zombies.

Meghan: Okay, Christina. Let’s have some fun… Would you rather get bitten by a vampire or a werewolf? Vampire. Give me blood, immortality, and largely inherent bisexuality, please.

Meghan: Would you rather fight a zombie apocalypse or an alien invasion? Alien invasion. I do not want to deal with humans when they come back a second time. They are rough enough the first.

Meghan: Would you rather drink zombie juice or eat dead bodies from the graveyard? Maybe dead bodies? I don’t want to become a zombie, and I can always cook the “meat.”

Meghan: Would you rather stay at the Poltergeist house or the Amityville house for a week? Amityville house. Maybe if I stay alone, things won’t be so bad.

Meghan: Would you rather chew on a bitter melon with chilies or maggot-infested cheese? I’ll take the melon. I would choose a lot over anything with maggots.

Meghan: Would you rather drink from a witch’s cauldron or lick cotton candy made of spider webs? Witch cauldron. I hate spiders! I can’t even type this answer without shuddering.

Boo-graphy: Christina Bergling has been writing since childhood. She has written a variety of styles. A blog from Iraq, software user guides, articles for a numismatist magazine. More than anything, she is a horror author.

Crystal Lake released her latest novel, Followers. Limitless Publishing published her novel The Rest Will Come. HellBound Books published her two novellas, Savages and The Waning. She co-wrote Screechers with Kevin J. Kennedy. She is also featured in numerous anthologies, including Collected Christmas Horror Shorts
(1 and 2), Demonic Wildlife, Colorado’s Emerging Authors, and Graveyard Girls.

Bergling lives with her family in Colorado and spends her non-writing time working in IT, hiking mountains, dancing, and sucking all the marrow out of life.

CHRISTMAS TAKEOVER 2022: Christina Bergling

Elves Watching

“They’re watching me. I can feel it,” I said, picking at the corded edge of the sofa cushion.

The cloudy sky dribbled dim light through the windowpane. Thin white grills carved the glass into a grid. The gentle patter of the rain should have soothed me, yet my anxiety clenched around my heart like a fist.

“Who is watching you, Noel?” My therapist did not look up from his pad as he spoke.

Dr. Morris squeezed his bulk into a wingback chair, the deep crimson of the back encapsulating him, wrapping around him like a mouth. Cropped, wiry white curls spiraled up from his dark scalp and square jaw. I told myself that he could not look like Santa because he was not white like the infamous figure on Coke ads and wrapping paper and figurines, yet when his eyes crinkled at the corner, my chest still seized.

I told myself Santa wasn’t real as I inhaled and again as I exhaled.

“You know who.” My voice pulled taut as I tugged at the edge of the cushion. “We have talked about it a thousand times.”

Dr. Morris took a measured, patient breath. The same he always did before he repeated himself. “Yes, but you need to name them. When you name something, you encapsulate the thing, take some of its power.” Leaning forward, he peered through me with wide pupils like chunks of coal.

I wilted under his gentle scrutiny. The name swelled in my throat, near suffocating me.

“Elves. Always the elves.” I forced the name past my teeth, closing my eyes yet seeing the small, glowing eyes as I spoke.

“The elves your mother told you about when you were growing up. The ones who watched you.”

“The ones I saw. The ones who have been watching me. All the time.” I spoke softly, so they couldn’t hear me.

Glancing to the window, I scanned the bottom of the pane. Not breathing until I made sure I did not see their small glowing eyes. Only rain streaking slow down the glass.

Red. The eyes would be glowing red.

“But we have discussed this.” Clutching his yellow pad in front of his chest, he glanced down at his notes and back at me.

My gaze lingered on the window. “Elves are not real,” I murmured, reciting the empty words. “Elves are not real,” I lied.

Saying it, naming them did not encapsulate anything. It did not calm me. My pulse throbbed hard enough for sweat to prickle along my hair. The fear climbed over my skin then cinched to bind me. It compressed my lungs as I tried to smile thin and keep still.

“I can see this conversation makes you very… uncomfortable.” He wedged himself back into his chair.


“No, it’s fine. I know.”

“Do you know?” His hand found his chin to briefly twirl through the white hair. “Then why are we back here again, discussing being watched?”

I am being watched. Taking a deep breath, I pressed my sweaty palms along my pant legs. “Even though I know that, the feelings remain.”

He exhaled hard. “Oh, that’s perfectly natural.” He flicked his hand toward me at the wrist, a flippant gesture. “Considering your history with your mother and the holiday, I know Christmas is challenging for you. Our cognitive thoughts are often different from our emotions. The two do not operate in parallel. You may know something in your mind, but that doesn’t convince your heart.”

I nodded, because what he said about Christmas was true. However, my mind and heart were in alignment on this. No one else believed me. No one had ever believed me.

When my mother told me about the elves, I was seven years old. As we sat at the table with Thanksgiving leftovers for breakfast, I shoveled cranberries into my mouth and regaled her with my long Christmas list. Grimacing a smile, my mother tapped her fork on her untouched plate.

In a flat voice, she told me that Santa would only bring me all those things if I was good and that he had little elves watching me all year to report back. I laughed at first, but then the idea burrowed into my brain, sprouting roots and branching through me. When she looked at me with wide and dead eyes, I knew she was telling me the truth.

But I didn’t see them until the next year. By the time I glimpsed their tiny, glowing red eyes, I had nearly forgotten about the elves. I was doubting Santa himself by that point.

“Have you seen the elves this year?” My mother slurred, the ice cubes in her glass clinking in a familiar song.

“There’s no such things as elves.” I baited her, examining her reaction from the corner of my eye for confirmation that I was right.

My mother’s scoff tumbled into a chuckle as her fingers fumbled over the figurines she was attempting to set up. They tipped and rolled under her intoxicated touch. A fat Santa with a round belly and huge grin. Identical reindeer in different inflight poses, one with a red nose. Then the stout, jovial elves looking like trolls.

Attempting to encircle Santa with the elves, her haphazard placement instead made the North Pole look like a battlefield. As I watched her, I knew all her sloppy decorations and preparations would be wasted. Like every year.

Her face suddenly sharpened, came into focus as she leveled her eyes through me. “Oh, there are elves, Noel.” The curling edges vanished from her voice, making her almost sound like a stranger.

Her eyes burrowed into me, their severity making my skin itch. Then she flicked her gaze at the elven figures. All six stood upright and at attention. All six faced me. Gasping, I recoiled and bumped into the wall behind me. Simultaneously, with a soft porcelain crack, all the elves snapped their faces up to me, and their eyes glowed red.

The scream billowed out of my throat as I tried to press through the wall. My mother’s laughter chased my scrabble up the stairs.

“I told you they were real!” She shouted before I could slam my door shut.

Panting and shaking, I pinned myself into the door and slid down into a crouch. My heaving diaphragm assaulted my thighs as I clutched myself. There was no Santa. All the kids at school had said it; it was unanimous. And if there was no Santa, there were no elves. Yet each time I blinked, I saw those tiny red eyes.

The tears stung my face when I planted my head on my knees, listening to my own brewing sobs accumulate in my lap. Even then, I knew the tears were not for the elves. They were for my mother, the stumbling version and whatever sharpness had just seized her. Her elves just uncorked them from my eyes.

The wave crashed over me and receded. Breathing slow, I lifted my face. When my eyes met the window, six sets of tiny glowing eyes fixed on me through the glass. I screamed again, but my mother never came.

The next morning, the elven eyes greeted me when I woke myself up to get ready for school. They followed me to the windowpanes of my classrooms. They appeared between tree trunks on my walk home.

For the first few months, I told my mother, even begged for her help. She only said, “I told you.” Eventually, I stopped telling her, then stopped even talking to her at all.

Somehow, even then, I knew I couldn’t tell anyone else, that while my mother believed too much, the rest would not believe me at all. I saw the elves so often that I nearly went blind to them, like saying a word so much the syllables fall apart in your mouth. Yet, each time, my chest still contracted in fear to remind me of their menace.

In college, I made the mistake of getting too drunk and telling the entire party about my life-long stalkers. I was rewarded with elf gifts from each of my roommates that year, wrapped in their mocking laughter. My first long-term partner said I mumbled about elves in my sleep before I woke up screaming.

At my mother’s burial, I saw all the eyes peeking from behind distant tombstones. For once, in that moment, they were almost a comfort.

When I had stumbled onto a night road fleeing their reflection in every storefront window, a black SUV blared its horn and slammed into me. I woke up in a narcotic haze, tugging against the soft restraints around my wrists. The nurse said I had flown into a violent rage, shrieking about the elves that were out to get me. I had broken one orderly’s nose in the process.

Even there, the red glowing eyes glared at me through the high hospital window.

And there, I met Dr. Morris.

“Noel, we have talked about this.” Dr. Morris’s voice snapped me back to the present on his stiff green couch. I jolted and immediately glared at the window. Still a vacant pane. “You do not have to celebrate Christmas. You do not have to decorate or participate in any way. You can change your name if you truly want to separate yourself from you mother’s fixation.”

I rubbed my hands over my face, pressing my fingers into my eyes until I saw stars. Stars that appeared red and glowing.

I snapped my eyelids open. I could feel them before I could see them. The touch of their stare was tactile, penetrating. The elves were at the window, lined up along the bottom of the pane, their noses flattened against the glass. I could see the miniature plumes of steam from their greedy pants. Stifling the gasp in my throat, my body went rigid, nearly rising off the cushion.

Pretend you don’t see them. Pretend they are not there.

“What’s wrong?” Dr. Morris straightened and followed my gaze, turning in his chair toward the window.

The elves ducked down before he could glimpse them. As they always did.

The tears returned to my eyes, leaving me swimming in that overwhelming helpless feeling. He was going to have me committed if I did not wrangle myself back under control. Then I would be trapped in one room, where they could always see me, where they could creep ever closer.

“Nothing,” I snapped. Every muscle remained clenched. I could barely breathe.

“Noel,” he scolded. “What do you see?”

Pinching my face closed, I shook my head. As if I could will it untrue. As if that had ever worked in all these years.

“Noel, tell me what you see. You are safe here.”

I wanted to laugh at how wrong he was. My lip quivered uncontrollably, and I could feel the wag tremble up into my cheeks. It was shaking the tears loose.

If I squeezed hard enough, maybe I could keep my eyes closed. That had never worked before. I was always too scared of what the elves would be doing on the other side of my eyelids.

“Noel.” Dr. Morris’s tone tightened. “Noe—” A wet sound sliced through my name, turning the syllables into gargles. A strange, liquid gasp replaced his words.

My heart hammered, igniting every inch of my skin. As I pried my eyes open, I could feel the air around me. I clasped my hands over my mouth to contain the scream.

The elves crawled over Dr. Morris’s body, scurrying and teaming like insects. They were not the porcelain figures my mother had clumsily loved and eventually shattered in her drunken hazes. Yet those red eyes were the same. The same from that first night and every day that followed.

Their pale, grey skin tugged into harsh wrinkles to carve gruesome visages. Prickly black eyebrows turned down over the glowing eyes, yet wide grins of pointed teeth contradicted their frowns, contorted their faces into something horrifying. Each sported soiled red and green clothes with lopsided and wilted pointy hats. Coarse hairs sprouted long and angry from edges of their shirts and pants.

Even in my deepest nightmares, I had never imagined them this ghastly.

All six of them stared at me, as Dr. Morris’s blood spurted and rained down on them. Their faces were frozen in silent laughter. I did not move. I had no idea what to do. They had never been this close. I had never been without the glass barrier between us.

One elf tore sheets from Dr. Morris’s pad, tossing them to flutter around his twitching feet. Another stuffed small fingers through the wound parting Dr. Morris’s throat. Another joined to help tear and rip the skin, exposing the limp cords and tendons within.

The elf on his chest threw its head back and released a piercing scream. Something between a shriek and laughter. I gripped my ears to muffle it, but it seemed to be blaring directly into my brain. When it stopped, the elf looked at me, almost smiled, and wiggled into Dr. Morris’s mouth.

Dr. Morris’s body settled, slumping heavy in the chair, dripping over the armrests, but his head jerked and cracked from side to side. Squishing and tearing sounds spilled from his hanging lips. As his head jostled, his dead eyes found me, stared into me like the elves always did. My hands clutched the couch cushion, sweating through it, yet I could not move. I was frozen in petrified wonderment.

Dr. Morris’s head stilled, and the sounds changed. The wriggling shifted to more of a tugging. My head tilted as my brain reeled to identify the sounds. The head jerked forward and back, causing the body to convulse in the chair. Then with one hard and sickening pop, Dr. Morris’s right eye disappeared into his skull.

I gaped into the vacancy. The impulse to draw closer and peer into the void tingled on my skin, but I clung to the cushion against it. Time seemed to stop and grow as dark as his bloody eye socket.

In the hideous hole, behind the dangling eyelids and fringe of limp lashes, two red, glowing points replaced his eyeball.

“I told you,” I whispered to Dr. Morris as those burning eyes remained fixed on me.

Boo-graphy: Christina Bergling has been writing since childhood. She has written a variety of styles. A blog from Iraq, software user guides, articles for a numismatist magazine. More than anything, she is a horror author.

Crystal Lake released her latest novel, Followers. Limitless Publishing published her novel The Rest Will Come. HellBound Books published her two novellas, Savages and The Waning. She co-wrote Screechers with Kevin J. Kennedy. She is also featured in numerous anthologies, including Collected Christmas Horror Shorts
(1 and 2), Demonic Wildlife, Colorado’s Emerging Authors, and Graveyard Girls.

Bergling lives with her family in Colorado and spends her non-writing time working in IT, hiking mountains, dancing, and sucking all the marrow out of life.

GUEST INTERVIEW: Jeff Parsons Interviews ME

It’s not often that I get sent a handful of questions, but each time, it is super exciting to take part. This year, along with an author interview and guest post (a true story), Jeff decided that he wanted to send over a set of questions for ME. And what a great set of questions it was. So, without further ado…

Jeff: What inspired you to create your blog?

Me: I wanted a place that was mine where I could talk books. At the beginning of The Gal in the Blue Mask, which was the blog before Meghan’s House of Books, Goodreads was a rather dramatic place to hang out. Authors and bloggers/reviewers were bickering and both sides were being rather unpleasant to the other, doing things I considered very wrong. I wanted a safe place, a happy place, where I made the rules and everyone was welcome.

In 2019, after a couple of years of just feeling lost when it came to blogging, I decided to rebrand myself as Meghan’s House of Books. It wasn’t that I didn’t love The Gal anymore – I do, and it still exists, for always – but I just felt like I had grown out of it. And so the front doors of “my house” were opened…

Jeff: How do you get your blog noticed? Marketing, blog-to-blog outreach, word of mouth?

Meghan: To be honest, it’s mostly word of mouth. I don’t really fit in with the other bloggers, or so it seems. I’ve tried to make friends with fellow book bloggers, even ones that like the same kinds of books I do, and I’ve done all the stuff they say to do – comment, like, follow – but I’ve never really clicked with most of them. Never really been given the chance. Not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing…

Jeff: What are some interesting things you’ve learned from talking with authors?


  • They’re all just normal people.
  • They don’t always know what they are doing.
  • The anxiety is real with them as well. (They don’t often see themselves as we do, and question whether they are any good at all.)

Jeff: How do you respond to people who say horror is for disturbed minds?

Meghan: I ask them if they’ve actually read a book in the genre and often suggest a few that they should read because, to me, horror is a way to handle the horrific of the world, a way for us to better understand the “disturbed minds” out there. Not all horror is gore for gore’s sake, which I know turns a lot of people off, or extreme. A lot of horror is psychological or things that can actually happen. Those things say with you long after you close the cover of the book or the credits finish rolling.

Jeff: Why do some people dislike Halloween? Are they afraid of something?

Meghan: There’s a reason that one of my questions in this year’s interview was why Halloween was their favorite (or second favorite) holiday. It’s one of my top two and I wanted to see if people felt the same way about it as I do. To me, Halloween is a lifestyle, and there are horror things up in my home office year round. I’m a spooky girl all year, until November 1st when I become all Christmas all day, and around January 10th I go right back to being a spooky girl. I think people dislike Halloween because they were brought up being told to not like it or that it is evil or they just don’t understand it. Halloween is a time when you get to be a little different, when you get to dress up and pretend you are not the same boring person you are every other day, when you get to enjoy being scared and the things that go bump in the night. “Are they afraid of something?” That’s a great question. Maybe they are afraid of the things that COULD be in the dark. Or maybe they’re just afraid of being judged for liking something that usually the “nerds” are the ones enjoying or because they think it’s kids’ stuff. Maybe they’re afraid to let go and enjoy themselves. And, as I said above, maybe they just don’t understand it.

Jeff: What if Halloween represented a dark side of life that we’ve repressed over the years? What do you think would be scary if we fell back into believing our older superstitions?

Meghan: I’ve never really found Halloween or superstitions scary. Old wives’ tales are often something that has worked over time and handed down through generations (i.e. chicken soup curing a cold). Some are based on religious beliefs (i.e. Friday the 13th and not walking under a ladder). Some were used to scare children into behaving themselves, and they had to have worked or they wouldn’t have stuck.

I grew up in a very religious household, and am still religious. Sometimes I think that we SHOULD fall back into believing our old superstitions. Let’s take Krampus for an example. Kids used to behave because they were truly afraid of being on that bad list. They believed (and maybe it was based on a true story at some point in time) that Santa would send Krampus to get them if they misbehaved. And there are lots of Christmas stories like that – Gryla, the mother of the Yule Lads, who kidnaps, cooks, and eats children; Pere Fouettard, who is St Nicholas’ servant, with the sole job of dispensing punishment to bad children on St Nicholas Day; Perchta, who rewards and punishes during the 12 days of Christmas, best known for ripping out the internal organs and replacing them with trash; and, of course, the Yule Cat, who can apparently smell laziness on a child, who are then sacrificed to him.

Jeff: What do you think Halloween will be like 100 years from now?

Meghan: Less fun? Everything is so politically charged these days, and people are so offended/triggered that the fun is being drained from things like Halloween. We’re told that we shouldn’t like things because of this or reason or this reason. Those of us who have heard this our whole lives are fighting back, but in 100 years, who will be around to defend the weird and wonderful that we love all year round?

Jeff: What can writers do to improve their stories?

Meghan: Since I am an editor, one with over 20 years experience that includes working for two of the big five, I’m going to say that the best way they can improve their stories is to hire a well-read editor and listen to what they have to say. Now I know there are some people that think they don’t need an editor, that say it is an expense they can ignore, especially if they are a self published author, but a good editor is really worth their weight in gold.

I’ve heard horror stories – trust me – which is why I say to talk to the person before you decide to hire them. Let them tell you what they can do for you, let them tell you about their education, their training, and what they have edited so far. (You can even ask to talk to one or two of the authors that they have worked with.) Get to know the person and decide if the two of you would make a good team or not – and I say team because that is basically what the two of you will be, especially if you are writing a trilogy or series, as you’ll want to have the same eyes looking at it each time to ensure consistency and continuity.

I will tell you that a good editor WILL discuss things with you, WILL explain why changes are necessary. YOU will learn from them and THEY will learn from you. It will be a true partnership, but the story will ALWAYS be yours. They will help to make your story better all while retaining your voice. They will never change things (other than misspellings and punctuation) without talking to you first. And they will be available to talk to you at least once during the project. You have to be able to trust them because, in essence, you are trusting them with your baby, so don’t ignore those little things that make you question.

If you simply cannot afford an editor, which is understandable, you should (at the very least) get a good BETA reader. (Note: Some editors do provide a BETA read for a cheaper price, where they will give you an honest opinion of the story in front of them and point out any major flaws with the story.) It doesn’t necessarily have to be an editor, but it should be a well-read person who you can trust to be completely honest with you and invested in your success. Honesty is the only way you are going to learn and your story is going to get better. (And I suggest that you sit down with their notes with an open mind because they really are just trying to help you.)

[Here’s my chance to plug me for a change: Any author that mentions this interview gets 20% off their first edit project with MeghanH Editing.]

Jeff: What are some of the best story hooks you’ve ever read?

Meghan: I am drawn to horror that is set during either Halloween or Christmas, and I absolutely love stories where the setting is a carnival/circus or something haunted (homes, asylums, hospitals). (There should be more carnival/circus horror, people!!) At the same time, I am often truly put off if there is a vampire, werewolf, or zombie involved, which saddens me, especially with vampires and werewolves, because those were the things I loved as a kid. They have just become so… boring… for me, but there are times I give those a try, hoping for something different, hoping for something to grab my attention and pull me in like they did when I was younger.

You’re looking for specifics here, though, so let me pull out a few that have stayed on my favorites list over time.

I love when a stranger comes back to get revenge years later, causing the main character to suffer in the same way that they once tormented the stranger. Even better if there’s been enough time between the two events for the main character to have forgotten or almost forgotten what had happened. A good example of this would be Desolation by Kristopher Rufty. Even better because his story is told from both sides.

I also love watching the main character slowly go insane. That’s a fear I think a lot of people have in life, that they will slowly lose their mind, and it’s interesting to see when done well – and it sicks with you. A good example of this is Six Dead Spots by Gregor Xane.

I know I said that I am bored with werewolves, but maybe it’s because I’m looking for something different. A few years ago I read one by Jonathan Janz (Wolf Land) where the victims became werewolves themselves.

I find stalker stories interesting. I read one not too long ago where a man puts a spell on the woman he loves, and after she loses her memory, pretends to be her lover. As the story goes on, she slowly starts finding out more and more about the man and what he would do to keep the woman of his dreams while she also starts… changing. I was hooked. (The book in question was Rose by Rami Ungar.)

I’ll tell you right now – if you put Krampus or any of his ilk in a story, you’ll have me from page one. I was just “surprised” by a short story in The Best of Indie Horror: Christmas Edition (published by KJK Publishing, edited by Kevin J Kennedy) – I can’t tell you which one because I don’t want to spoil the surprise for you, but I would definitely suggest picking that anthology up (I’ll be reviewing it shortly).

Along the same path, and even though it’s not necessarily horror – well… maybe… possibly… – if you put any holiday character into a book and give them a backstory not expected (for example, the Claus series by Tony Bertauski), you’ll have a hard time not catching my attention.

I guess, you could say, that it’s the psychological horror that really gets me – the things that could actually happen to someone, taken to that next level, the things that stay with you long after you have finished reading the story, that are the hooks I like best.

Jeff: What’s more important to you – characters or plot?

Meghan: Both? You sort of need both to make a gripping story, but I guess if I HAVE to chose one or the other, I’ll say that characters are the most important. Without characters, the plot won’t matter at all. And if the characters we are supposed to love are dreadful, then we really won’t care what happens to them, no matter how good the plot is.

Jeff: What got you interested in horror?

Meghan: My father. He was always reading or watching something interesting. Usually something I wasn’t supposed to be reading or watching. He told me one time that horror was a good scary because I can be scared but not hurt by the things that happen in books and movies.

My first “horror” movie was Jaws. I’ve told this story a billion times, but what’s one more time? We were at my mom and dad’s best friend’s house. The husband and the oldest son (who I had a crush on at a very young age) were watching the movie, and though my mother told me that I would probably not like it, I decided to watch it with them anyway. I honestly can’t tell you much about the movie, nothing beyond the shark and how scared I was, and I have never attempted the movie again. It didn’t help that the same oldest son told me that the light in the deep end of the pool was Jaw’s eyeball. Seriously. His EYEBALL. It took me a good year before I would set foot inot that pool again. One day, there was some work being done on the pool and my dad pointed at the hole and said, “See? It can’t be Jaw’s eyeball. There’s no body.” Now, up until that point, and quite a few more points over the years, I thought my dad was the smartest man on the planet. At that moment, though, I seriously questioned how smart he was. It could still be Jaw’s eyeball without his body there. And sometimes, in the dark, out of the corner of my eye, I swear I see that big eyeball winking at me…

Jeff: What stories can be written in horror that can’t be expressed in other genres?

Meghan: That’s a very good question. I honestly believe that only horror can really go into the depth of someone’s soul, only horror can really explore our true fears. Horror is that one step further, that one step that other genres are afraid to take, with characters that are not afraid to take themselves to that next level, that aren’t afraid to let themselves be depraved or evil, and on the other side, aren’t afraid to feel that depravity and that evil to cone out fine, but often changed, on the other side. I think that all stories in other genres have the potential of being horror, but only horror allows that exploration, only horror creates the opportunity feel that fear (in safety), and really, it’s only horror that gets away with all of the above because it is expected and accepted.

If you think about it, a good romance can lead to a horrific murder spree if we find out that the beautiful woman he fell in love with doesn’t even know he exists. A good science fiction can become horrific if, rather than the people on the spaceship becoming friends with the new alien life they have just encountered, they choose to repeat atrocities from the past and wipe those beings and their planet from space. The cozy mystery can lead to a horrific story if the witty chef who solves crimes in her spare time ends up being the murderer and takes her killing fetish to the extreme, all while setting innocent people up for the murders that she is committing. A fantasy needs to just up it’s Brothers Grimm-anti to cross the line into horror.

Jeff: The lines between horror and other genres often become blurred. What do you think real horror is?

Meghan: This is the one question that I truly struggled to answer, but knowing how annoyed I get when someone doesn’t answer all of the questions in an interview I worked hard to put together, there was no way I was going to do that to you.

Horror is very hard to define because of those blurred lines and each person you ask is going to have a different answer as horror means something different to each individual. Why? Because we all fear different things.

I personally think real horror challenges our belief of what is good and what is evil. Therefore, I think the horror genre is the epitome of that uncertainty. And many of its themes are things that are considered socially unacceptable. As I’ve said elsewhere in this interview, horror gives us a chance to figure things out, to analyze, to really look in-depth at the things that scare us and see it in a different light, to see the wizard behind the curtain.

Jeff: Considering the awful truth of what can happen in this world, how far do you think a horror writer can go to describe the truth before it’s considered unacceptable?

Meghan: I think that as long as it is in some way believable, that if some part of it *could* happen, there will always be someone (or a group of someones) who will accept it no matter how far the author takes it. I think there should be horror that fits in with the horrors of the world because those stories will help us to better understand it. Authors just need to keep in mind that not everyone sees the same horror in things, not everyone has the same story. Current things, full of all kinds of emotion, where the true facts are not always known, are harder for people to stomach than, say, something that happened in the past. Your “horror” may not be my “horror.” We saw that when we look back at WWII. People who went through the events, who were in countries where the events took place, understood the atrocities on a completely different level than those who did not. The war itself was hard on everyone, and a lot of people lost their lives, but it wasn’t until after the war ended – years after the war ended – that the true evil and depravity was shown to life. It wasn’t something that you saw on the news, it wasn’t something that was happening to your neighbor or your family (at least for a lot of people), and even when it was, people did know know what was *really* happening at the other end of a train. People were conditioned to believe that what they were doing was right, and some truly believed that one people were lower than another. Some people did things because they had no choice, or they had to make the decision to do what they had in order to save their lives and the lives of their loved ones. Other people believe it could not have possibly happened because how could we do something like that to our fellow man?

Jeff: What do you think most future horror stories will evolve into? More towards “I’m all alone” or a cosmic-level dread?

Meghan: We’ve found out, most of us, during this global pandemic, that being “all alone” is actually quite nice and easily sustainable. We’ve found out, most of us, that we don’t need other people physically in our lives, and with the options to have things, including groceries and food, delivered to your home, there’s a good few of us that would love living like that the rest of our lives, only having to venture out if we need to. We all have friends that live all over the world, friends we can talk to every day, friends we can see every day. Hell, we’ve even had holidays across the world while sitting in each other’s living rooms. Being “all alone” just isn’t scary anymore.

I think the “new scary” is definitely cosmic horror. Now we’re venturing into things that before we THOUGHT could NEVER happen. (But then we also thought that a global pandemic could never happen. Also: locusts in Africa, devastating fires in both Australia and California, murder hornets, ebola. So maybe a giant octopus creature *could* come from the ocean depths. I mean, it *could*… right?) Cosmic horror makes readers uncomfortable (in a good way), plunges common fears and anxieties into the minds o readers, and focuses on the mysterious and the unfathomable, rather than violence and bloodshed. It makes us realize that, in the great scheme of things, we’re really not very important after all. Maybe that’s the scariest thing of all.

In addition to his two short story books, The Captivating Flames of Madness and Algorithm of Nightmares, Jeff Parsons is published in The Horror Zine, The Horror Zine’s Book of Ghost Stories, Aphelion Webzine, Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 4, Dark Gothic Resurrected Magazine, Chilling Ghost Short Stories, Dystopia Utopia Short Stories, Wax & Wane: A Coven of Witch Tales, Thinking Through Our Fingers, The Moving Finger Writes, Golden Prose & Poetry, Our Dance With Words, The Voices Within, Fireburst: The Inner Circle Writers’ Group, Second Flash Fiction Anthology 2018, SNM Horror Magazine, and Bonded by Blood IV/ V.

The Captivating Flames of Madness
This book’s title comes from the reality that – like a moth to the flame – we’re all just one event, mishap, or decision away from things that could change our lives forever.

What would you do if fate led you astray into a grim world where you encountered vengeful ghosts, homicidal maniacs, ancient gods, apocalyptic nightmares, dark magic, deadly space aliens, and more?

If you dare, why not find out?

Read for yourself the twenty-two gloriously provocative tales that dwell within this book – but be warned, some of my dear readers have experienced lasting nightmares…